Free Fun in Burlington

Here we share five fabulous free things to do with kids in and around Burlington, Vermont.

Maple Open House at Shelburne Farms

Shelburne Farms is a dairy farm and nonprofit education center on the shores of Lake Champlain in nearby Shelburne, Vermont. Throughout the year, the farm hosts many free and nearly-free family activities and events. One of the best takes place at the end of every March when Shelburne Farms hosts a Sugar-on-Snow event that is free and open to the public.  Park your car at the barn and hike up the hill behind it. There, set back in the woods, you’ll find a steaming sugar house. Inside you’ll learn how the sap turns into syrup. Outside you can sample sugar-on-snow —hot maple syrup drizzled on snow and served with the traditional side of pickles! Then continue on a scavenger hunt along the wooded trails to find “tree cookies” which kids can collect and trade-in at the barn for maple candies. Should you get cold while you are hunting, there is an outdoor campfire to warm up your hands. This is a great way to spend the morning sampling Vermont’s tasty treats and getting a little exercise too. (Maple Open House dates: 9:30am-2pm, March 27-28, 2010)

Island Line Trail

This spectacular 12-mile walking-and-biking path is absolutely the best in all of Northern Vermont. It is so unique, beginning with a paved section that skirts Burlington’s waterfront and ending with a packed gravel stretch that juts out on the Colchester Causeway three miles into the middle of the lake. You actually get the feeling that you are walking on water. Along the way, there are public beaches and scenic views that take in all of the natural beauty of Vermont, with the lake and mountains surrounding you.

Because the trail is so flat, kids of all ages can bike or walk it with ease and small ones can be pushed in a jogging stroller. There is not much shade if any at all, so remember your sunscreen, as well as snacks and water. (In downtown Burlington, take Main Street west toward the waterfront. Follow the road past Battery Street as it curves to the right, then turn left on College Street. To go straight to the Colchester Causeway, take Route 127 north and turn left onto Porter’s Point Road. Turn left onto Colchester Point Road. Airport Park will be on the right, with parking and trail access.)

Bristol Falls Swimming Hole

In the summer, there is nothing better than a Vermont swimming hole.  Located alongside Lincoln Road with convenient parking, Bristol Falls is one of the prettiest. It starts with a waterfall that leads into a small canyon of slow-moving water. Though the rocks can be slippery (water shoes are a great idea), you can swim to the far side and walk along the rock edge and actually stand right underneath the waterfall. A couple of hundred feet out, the water level is really shallow and is ideal for younger kids. There are places along the shore for picnicking and relaxing.

Stoweflake Hot Air Balloon Festival

It’s no wonder the Vermont Chamber of Commerce picks this as a top 10 summer event. Although the festival charges admission for the evening launches, the morning launches are all free. To see the balloons being blown up on the fields is truly a colorful feast for the eyes. Some of the balloonists will even let the kids go inside the balloons for a close-up look.

When all the balloons finally launch, it is a magical moment for young and old alike. (Stoweflake Hot Air Balloon Festival is in July)

Thursdays at the Intervale

While there are many great places to hike in Vermont, the Intervale is just superb. This family-friendly trail can be enjoyed all year round for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing, and it is very close to downtown Burlington. In the summertime, there is a great free program called Thursdays at the Intervale. Families gather at the Community Barn for food, live music, kids’ activities, and educational programs. You can bring your own picnic dinner or buy slices of pizza from one of Vermont’s favorites, American Flatbread.

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